OBXFS and Coastal Planning: Interning with the Town of Nags Head

My coursework through the OBXFS has been greatly supplemented through my internship placement with the Principal Planner in the Town of Nags Head. Holly White, long time Nags Head resident and Principal Planner for the municipality, has so graciously been exposing me to the inner workings of the town and providing learning experiences on how local government works. Acting as somewhat of an all-purpose helper, I’ve helped Holly with town preparations for CRS inspections as well as furthered my own environmental education messaging projects. My projects have surrounded effective messaging on environmental issues and information via social media. I have been creating Instagram posts, Facebook write-ups, tweets and a social media posting plan for future interns.

When corresponding with Corey about internship placement preferences, I told him that the most useful experience for me personally, would give me more context for understanding what career paths will make me feel the most fulfilled. After exploring the list together and reading internship blog posts from previous years, I came to believe that interning with a municipality would be a perfect fit for completing that goal. From my first call connecting with Holly, I knew that COVID-19 circumstances wouldn’t hinder our ability to work together. Interested in both my academic and emotional transition to the Outer Banks, Holly always took time to understand my perspectives and make our work together as impactful, relevant and engaging as possible. Coming into my internship, it was already predetermined that my work would be environmentally focused; the format of my work however, was something Holly and I developed together. After discussing a need for more outreach, specifically in the realm of social media, Holly and I decided that I would explore the Town’s social media presence and find ways to increase its effectiveness. The social media campaigns we’ve developed have been for both short-term and long-term use. Spot-light, information-dense campaigns would run for roughly three weeks, with weekly or biweekly posts. On the other hand, long-term campaigns – sparser and more simplistic in information – would run for six months or longer.

My experience with the Town of Nags Head was enhanced by Holly’s willingness to introduce me to her coworkers and connect me better with the rest of the department and town staff. From arranging calls with herself, Kate Jones, (engineering technician and the Town’s point-person on stormwater management) and Kylie Shephard , (another environmental planner in the Planning Department) to better inform me on the Town’s management strategies, to letting me sit in on staff meetings and see how decisions get made, Holly made sure that my internship taught me more than just what we discussed as experience deliverables.

Here is the title slide of a “Word of the Week” post, meant to draw in the audience with its simplicity

My favorite campaign we developed is a long-term campaign titled “Word of the Week” which aims to simplify scientific terms related to septic system health, climate change and other environmental concerns of the town. “Word of the Week” tries to ‘make science simple’ so that residents are better able to understand and contextualize Town recommendations and plans, hopefully empowering them to become more involved in communal problem-solving. “Word of the Week” is a campaign that could continue into the foreseeable future. There will always be work to be done closing the knowledge gaps that exist between researchers and residents.

Here are two of the informational slides. I believed that this campaign would be the most effective if there was as little jargon as possible.
Fun Fact: Holly is actually the one who suggested the utilization of memes (which as a young adult I was extremely fond of), stating that the residents were extremely receptive to ‘Dad Jokes’

All in all, my internship experience has provided me with useful real-world experience and connections to the Outer Banks that I will take beyond my time at the fieldsite. Thank you to the OBXFS professors and coordinators for arranging this experience and thank you to Holly White for your time and patience. I may not want to work in local government but I have definitely gained a greater appreciation of the inner workings of government and the nuances of public service. Go out and vote; remain civically engaged and make the work of your public officials more efficient and effective. Governance has always been a communal endeavor and needs to remain so! Apathy will be the death of our democracy.

Developing a sense of place while adjusting to a new space

As August comes to an end, I sit here reflecting on this rather ‘unprecedented’ year. Every month seems to have brought yet another paradigm-shifting event:

January and February brought scares internationally and losses at home, while March unleashed a pandemic that we are still struggling to get under control.

April was isolation, with quarantine in its heyday in May.

Quarantine ended too soon in June and July seemed to whiz by.

The dog-days of summer felt like a bummer, as I struggled to make sense of a loss without pretense.

In a bit of personal haze, I said goodbye to Chapel Hill for what is truthfully only a few days.

Replace the Hill with the Sound and an Ocean all around, OBX here I come, here to learn, here for fun.

But in all serious, 2020 has been an emotional rollercoaster. In desperate need of a respite from the storm, I excitedly began my semester at the Coastal Studies Institute almost three weeks ago and have enjoyed every moment thus far. I am sure that running this program in the middle of a global pandemic has already made it more memorable for our instructors than any program prior. It sure has been a memorable experience for me. Never in a million years did I picture myself wearing a mask to classes taught outside, sitting at least six feet away from my peers: but here at OBXFS, that is our reality. I won’t pretend that the masks don’t make my face practically melt, or that the lessons are completely audible through our fabric barriers; nonetheless, our professors have approached every meeting with an infectious zeal that makes caring about septic seem second nature.

As a Jamaican native, growing up a the rural mountain-scape, septic was my reality. Though having little to no knowledge on the inner mechanics of the system,  I was well aware of the place that housed my waste : the drain-field in my backyard. Fast-forward to the present and I am finally developing an academic understanding encompassing nuances that separate centralized and de-centralized wastewater systems. As I settle into the pace of life of Manteo, I am struck by the cultural consistency of the barrier islands. Here is a place where you walk into a gas station and stumble upon a reunion, as residents going about their days bump into former classmates, neighbors, congregation-mates and friendly faces, stopping in their tracks to chat and catch up. Here is a place where, regardless of interest or intellect, residents are bound by their love of water.

As I continue to learn about this history and importance of this space, I feel myself developing my own sense of place. I feel my personal attachment to sanctuary spaces growing: special shoutout to Bill and Downtown Books in Manteo for the amazing conversation and the even better book selection and recs. I appreciate the outlets to the sound found in Elizabethan Gardens and the watercolour sunsets that you can watch with exceptional clarity from Jockey’s Ridge. The turtles of the interdunal ponds and the whistling of the wind through the tall grass have already come to hold a special place in my heart. I am excited to see what more my time here has to share.


Thoughts and Musings,

Bri Thompson’22